Chad Brechbuhler (he/him) - Stanford in Paris
Major: Public Policy
Minor: Modern Languages
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: Our last week of class, my friend Carly and I finally got down to see the Catacombs!
Why did you choose to study in Paris?
Growing up in the suburbs of Ohio, I always had a fascination with language and culture. From the moment I started taking French my freshman year, I was obsessed with the beauty of the architecture, the art, and the literature that were so far removed from my reality. However, I never had the opportunity to immerse myself in French. Thus, I jumped at the opportunity to live with a French family while studying at a French university and making French friends. Further, I'm very interested in European and left-leaning politics, so Paris was the perfect place to explore these topics.
What were your expectations before you went and how did they change once you were in Paris?
As a chronic over-thinker, I had a laundry list of concerns before arriving in Paris. What if my French isn’t good enough? What if I don’t make any friends? What if the French are “mean”? What if my host family hates me? What if I can’t get over the cultural differences? And the list goes on. However, as soon as I got to Charles de Gaulle, those concerns dissipated. I discovered almost immediately that you are more than well equipped to deal with any issues that come your way (and most of the issues you were worried about will not come to pass anyways).
What were some of the academic benefits from studying away in Paris?
BOSP-Paris opened the door for me to take courses I would never be exposed to at Stanford. For example, my favorite course was a French Writing Workshop where we got to write our own creative pieces in French. While I have always loved to write and even used to want to be a novelist, I have never had the time to explore creative writing on campus. Further, my time in Paris improved my French ten-fold through conversations with professors, my host family, and other students at the Sorbonne, as well as through my coursework.
What did you learn about yourself while studying away?
As a fairly introverted individual who didn’t know anyone else in the program, I was rather concerned at the start about “finding a circle” in Paris. I quickly learned, however, that these concerns were overblown. After the first week of classes I had made friends with my cohort, as well as with French students at the Sorbonne. Now, despite my initial fears, I have forever friends (and free lodging) in Paris whenever I want to visit.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while abroad and what did you learn from it?
Within the first few minutes of my first lecture at the Sorbonne, it became apparent that I would be lucky to understand even seventy percent of what the professor was saying. Beyond the obvious language issue, French students also have no qualms about talking over the already quiet and echoey voice of the lecturer. This may have frustrated me to no end, but it also forced me to talk to the other students. After leaving lecture one with no idea what happened, I relied the rest of the quarter on asking people around me questions and borrowing notes, learning to be less stubbornly independent.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
French people have wildly different social norms about what topics are on the table for discussion and how to talk about them. With both my host family and other students, I was often stunned by how quickly conversations turned to religion, philosophy, or politics, and how fast these conversations turned seemingly hostile. However, it simply took adjustment to realize that debate is the national pastime and what may seem like a friendship ending fight in the US is just a light dinner chat in France.
What was your favorite part of everyday life?
I loved just walking around and exploring more than anything. While this may seem simple, there is something so incredible about stumbling upon the most beautiful street you have ever seen purely by accident. I never got over the feeling every day that I was just a few turns away from seeing something genuinely stunning.
What was the most memorable experience you had while in Paris?
Before it got too cold later in the quarter, I would go to the Seine for sunset with some friends from the Sorbonne. Having grabbed beverages and glasses beforehand, we would sit and drink and talk on the river surrounded by other French people before migrating to a cafe once night fell. While these nights were never the craziest or the most elaborate, there was something so unforgettable and quintessentially French about these experiences that I will always treasure.
What 5 words would you use to describe the experience?
Gorgeous, enriching, well-fed, impactful, once-in-a-lifetime.
What was your favorite food?
Ever single pastry sold by La Parisienne next door to the Stanford Center.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
A portable charger! You don’t think you need one until your phone is dead and you are five arrondissements away from your homestay.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Paris?
Dalida and Mylene Farmer